The Debatable Lands of Modernity
|Water powered cotton mill Gatehouse of Fleet|
|Steam powered cotton mills Manchester|
In late July 1793, Robert Burns and his friend John Syme made a journey into Galloway from Dumfries. After visiting John Gordon of Kenmure near New Galloway, they passed through the Galloway hills to the new town of Gatehouse of Fleet. While they were in the hills a thunderstorm broke out and Burns was inspired to compose part of ‘Scots Wha Hae’. Burns complete ‘Scots Wha Hae’ back in Dumfries where he made an association between the Wars of Independence and ‘the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite so ancient’. This is a guarded reference to the trial in Edinburgh of Thomas Muir and William Palmer for sedition as supporters of the French Revolution. Muir was sentenced to transportation for 14 years and Palmer for seven.
Around the same time, John Kennedy, a farmer’s son from Knocknalling near New Galloway was making his contribution to a very different revolution. In 1793 Kennedy managed to use a steam engine to directly power a cotton spinning machine in his Manchester factory. Within a few years the neatly ordered new town of Gatehouse with its water powered cotton mills surrounded by thousands of acres of neatly ordered fields and farms had lost its claim to modernity. A landscape which had briefly epitomised the Age of Reason was relegated to obscurity while the sulphurous chaos of Manchester and its steam powered factories now embodied modernity.
Through the lives of the ‘notable persons’ listed below who were born in the south of Scotland, it is possible to trace the movement of ideas which led to Gatehouse of Fleet’s moment of modernity (Groups 1-3) and to its eclipse (Group 4). Significantly, in an almost Hegelian process, the movement which negated the Enlightened modernity represented by Gatehouse of Fleet and its environment was then itself negated (Group 5).
However, because so many of the key figures in Group 4 were active in Liverpool and Manchester, their importance has been overlooked by both Scottish and regional historians. As a consequence, instead of being seen as a dynamic region which helped both create and critique the modern, industrialised world; the region is regarded as an inconsequential rural backwater. This perception is one which can and will be challenged.
Alistair Livingston 18 April 2013
Group 1. Seventeenth century
The religious and political struggles of the seventeenth century shaped the culture of southern Scotland into the nineteenth century. That this period also produced works of impressive scholarship can be overlooked, so it is important to be aware of the contributions made by Samuel Rutherford and James Dalrymple. It also needs to be remembered that the fear of a second Stuart restoration was a significant factor in the Union of 1707. [See Christopher Whatley ‘Reformed Religion,. Regime Change, Scottish Whigs and the Struggle for the ’Soul’ of Scotland, c.1688-1788’, Scottish Historical Review No.233, April 2013.
Samuel Rutherford, 1600-1662, born in Roxburghshire. Rutherford’s ‘Lex Rex’ published in London in 1644 was a powerful critique of the ‘divine right of kings’ doctrine and thus a key text in the transition from feudalism to modernity. Was also minister of Anwoth parish in Stewartry of Kirkcudbright 1626-1637.
James Dalrymple,1619-1695, born in Ayrshire, later landowner in Wigtownshire. Major work ‘The Institutions of the Law of Scotland deduced from its Originals, and collated with the Civil, Canon and Feudal Laws and with the Customs of Neighbouring Nations’, published 1681.
John Dalrymple, 1st earl of Stair, 1648-1707, born in Ayrshire, Wigtownshire landowner. Son of James Dalrymple. Played major role in Union of 1707.
Group 2. Early eighteenth century.
After the Union, the reality of the Jacobite threat was brought home in 1715, when Jacobite forces twice attempted to capture Dumfries. The fear that the Jacobites would exploit the failure of the Union to bring economic benefits inspired an initial phase of agricultural and industrial improvement. The realisation that Scotland had to ‘modernise’ (improve’) itself to become an equal partner in the Union, especially after 1745-6 stimulated the Scottish Enlightenment.
Samuel McClellan, died 1708, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, early capitalist investor in the Newmills Cloth Manufactory, provost of Edinburgh 1706, MP for Edinburgh 1708.
William Paterson, 1658-1719, born Dumfriesshire. Co-founder of the Bank of England, instigator of the Darien Scheme.
John Dalrymple 2nd earl of Stair, 1643-1747. Son of 1st earl of Stair. Along with Robert Maxwell (see below) established ‘The Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture’ in 1723. Pioneer agricultural improver.
Robert Maxwell 1695-1765, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Secretary to Society of Improvers and editor of the ‘Select Transactions’ of Society, published 1747. Instrumental, via Society, in establishing the Board of Trustees for Manufactures and Fisheries in 1727.
Henry Home, lord Kames 1696-1792, born Berwickshire. Agricultural improver and key figure in Scottish Enlightenment. Member of Board of Trustees from 1755.
Group 3. Later eighteenth century.
The process of improvement led to the transformation of the landscape and the economy. The ability to trade with and exploit territories under British control around the world created a flow of wealth which was invested in land. The estates bought were then improved, a process which also improved and civilised the owners as well as the occupiers of the land. [But there were also indigenous improvers e.g. William Craik and James Murray]. However, despite attempts to develop cotton and other industries, a combination of geology (lack of coal in Galloway) and lack of large urban centres left the region frozen on the cusp of modernity.
William Craik 1703-1798, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Agricultural improver and friend of Henry Home.
Richard Oswald 1704-1785, born Caithness but agricultural improver in Ayrshire (Auchincruive) and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright (Cavens, Kirkbean parish) where he was neighbour of William Craik. Also friend of Henry Home. In 1782 represented UK in peace negotiations with USA.
James Murray 1727-1829, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Founded new town of Gatehouse of Fleet and its water powered cotton mills which employed 400 people by 1790s.
William Douglas 1745-1809, born Wigtownshire. With his brothers made a fortune through trade with West Indies and Virginia. Bought lands of Carlingwark and Gelston in Stewartry of Kirkcudbright where he founded new town of Castle Douglas in 1791.
Robert Burns 1759-1796, born Ayrshire, died Dumfries. Poet and pioneer of dairy farming in Dumfries and Galloway. ‘The black cattle, in general, are of the Galloway breed; but Mr. Robert Burns, a gentleman well known for his poetical productions, who rents a farm in this parish, is of the opinion, that the west country [Ayrshire] cows give a larger quantity of milk.’ [Old Statistical Account, Parish of Dunscore]
Group 4. Late eighteenth to early nineteenth century.
The most significant feature of this period was the potential offered by the expansion of Liverpool as a trading port and of Manchester as a manufacturing centre. By the 1790s, a group of a dozen or more young men from the rural south of Scotland had established themselves as merchants in Liverpool and cotton manufacturers in Manchester. They became successful and influential figures in the development of the two cities which were at the heart of Britain’s industrial revolution.
William Kennedy, 1732-?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, became fustian manufacturer in Manchester. Daughter Elizabeth married Robert Riddell - Burns connection.
William Cannan 1744-1825, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Became textile machine maker in Lancashire and James McConnell, John Kennedy, George and Adam Murray (see below) all served their apprenticeships with him.
John Paul Jones 1747-1792, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, on William Craik’s estate. Well known for naval role in War of American Independence.
Edgar Corrie 1748-1819, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Liverpool merchant, John Gladstone’s first business partner. [Possible family link to William and Peter Ewart]
John Loudon McAdam 1756-1836, born Ayr civil engineer and road builder.
Dr James Currie 1756-1805 born Dumfriesshire. Became doctor in Liverpool and Robert Burns first biographer. Friend of Thomas Telford, Erasmus Darwin, Dugald Stewart, Joseph Priestley and William Wilberforce.
Thomas Telford 1757- 1834, born Dumfriesshire civil engineer with international reputation.
William Maxwell 1760-1834, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Father a Roman Catholic Jacobite (1745-6), but became active supporter of French Revolution, and witnessed death of Louis XVI before becoming Robert Burns’ doctor and friend.
Thomas Maxwell 1761-1792 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, brother of William. In 1785 became business partner of Charles Taylor in Manchester where the firm pioneered use of chlorine to bleach cotton. James Watt’s son James Watt junior joined the firm in 1788.
George Murray 1761- xxxx, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. With his brother Adam became major cotton spinning factory owner in Manchester.
James McConnel 1762-xxxx, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Partner of John Kennedy in major cotton spinning business in Manchester.
William Ewart 1763-xxxx, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Liverpool merchant and business partner of John Gladstone.
John Gladstone 1764-1850, born Edinburgh, family from Biggar. Father of William Ewart Gladstone.
Adam Murray 1766-xxxx, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. With his brother George became major cotton spinning manufacturer in Manchester.
Peter Ewart 1767-1842 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. A mechanical engineer and scientist. Was Boulton and Watts Manchester agent and with John Kennedy (see below) involved with Liverpool and Manchester railway.
William Galloway 1768-1836, born Berwickshire. Moved to Manchester in 1790 to become mechanical engineer and maker of stationary steam engines.
John Kennedy 1769-1855 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Pioneered application of steam power to cotton spinning. Along with James McConnell, Adam and George Murray became leading Manchester cotton spinner. Friend of James Watt and George Stephenson,. active promoter of Liverpool and Manchester railway and judge at the Rainhill locomotive trials.
William Fairburn 1789-1874, born Roxburghshire, important civil and mechanical engineer, who built bridges, steam ships and locomotives. Close links to George and Robert Stephenson and also John Kennedy in Manchester.
John Ramsay McCulloch 1789-1864, born Wigtownshire. Editor of The Scotsman 1817-24. First professor of political economy at University College London 1828. Highly influential, advising prime minister Robert Peel and future prime ministers William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.
James Beaumont Neilson 1792-1865, born Glasgow but family from Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Invented ‘hot-blast’ technique of iron smelting which revolutionised iron industry and led to growth of heavy engineering in west central Scotland. Neilson Monument overlooks Ringford village and A 75 road in Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.
Group 5. Early to mid-nineteenth century.
While the age of reason transformed the physical, economic and social environment of the south of Scotland by sweeping away its medieval heritage, the mechanical age marked an even more profound break with the past. The onset of this age was challenged in different ways by this group.
Walter Scott 1771-1832, born Edinburgh but closely associated with Scottish Borders. Internationally known author.
Joseph Train 1779-1852, born Ayrshire. Excise officer and antiquarian who provided Sir Walter Scott with Galloway folktales and legends which were used by Scott in several of his novels- Old Mortality, Redgauntlet, Guy Mannering, The Heart of Midlothian, the Bride of Lammermoor and The Abbot. The connection with Scott prompted Charles Dickens to visit Train in Castle Douglas in 1852.
Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881, born Dumfriesshire. First to use ‘the environment’ (1828) in its modern sense and opponent of the Mechanical Age.
Dr Peter McDouall 1814-1854, born Wigtownshire. Became a doctor in Lancashire where human cost of industrialisation inspired him to become a leading ‘physical force’ Chartist and advocate of a general strike. After being Imprisoned several times for his activities, he emigrated to Australia with his family, but died soon after arriving.